The Center for Mental Health says that in 2010, there were 15 suicides in the six-county coverage area of Montrose, San Miguel, Delta, Ouray, Gunnison and Hinsdale counties. Already this year, from Jan. 1 through April 25, an alarming number – 14 people – have taken their own lives. Eight suicides were in Montrose County, four in Delta County and one each in Gunnison and San Miguel. No suicides were reported from Ouray or Hinsdale counties.
Mental health experts at the Center say there is a year-to-year fluctuation in suicide rates, but Colorado’s is consistently 40 percent higher than the rest of the country, and the Western Slope typically has some of the highest rates in the state.
More Coloradans die from suicide than from highway crashes and homicide combined. Preventing suicide must become a public health priority, said Jon Gordon, director of the Center for Mental Health.
It’s a problem the Center has been addressing head-on through short courses they offer to anyone, anywhere, about spotting the signs of suicide.
But the community must get involved, said Judy Schmalz, the Center’s suicide prevention coordinator.
“We’re alarmed about the numbers of suicides and we’re up to the number for the whole of last year,” she said. “We’re basically trying to reach out to the places that we need to. It isn’t like there’s a group of people this is happening to, it’s happening all across the board.”
The Center offers several suicide prevention programs, including a quick one-hour class on recognizing the signs of a potential suicide in friends, relatives, coworkers and classmates.
Since the suicides in the last few months have ranged from teenagers through senior citizens, Schmalz said the community needs to get more involved, take a class, learn the signs, and maybe save a life.
Called QPR, for Question, Persuade and Refer, the class teaches steps anyone can learn to prevent suicide, just like CPR. And like CPR, using QPR is an emergency response to someone in crisis, according to Schmalz.
The training can be conducted anywhere, including at the Center for Mental Health on East Main Street, and it should be everywhere, Schmalz said.
“It can be really valuable in recognizing the signs of someone thinking about suicide in the people around you and we’re trying to provide training where it’s the most effective – but we’re not sure where – so we’re trying to reach every corner,” she said.
To learn more about taking QPR, which Schmalz said could be done over a lunch hour, contact her at 252-3228 or email@example.com.
If you or anyone you know is contemplating suicide, call the Center’s 24-hour crisis line at 252-6220. If you just want to talk to someone, call the Suicide Prevention Talk Line any time at 800/273-8255.
Public awareness and participation needs to be raised to help combat the problem of suicide, because it affects our communities, Schmalz said.
“We want to emphasize that this is a public health problem, and any efforts toward prevention need to be across the board,” she said.
Schmalz would like to see more people aware of the signs, such as depression, that can lead to suicidal thoughts, and to pay more attention to people they come in contact with, whether it’s church or work or in the community.
“It could be anyone, but if you know what to look for, lives can be saved,” she said.
The classes that the Center offers go more in depth, but briefly, here are some possible suicide warning signs:
Change in appetite or weight
Change in sleeping habits
Loss of interest in favorite activities
Feeling increasingly isolated
Fatigue and loss of energy
Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
Feelings of hopelessness
Talking about wanting to die
Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
Giving away prized possessions
Preoccupation with death and dying
Sudden drop in school or work performance
Friends and family should be even more concerned if the person uses alcohol or drugs, has a family history of suicidal behavior or has been depressed and suddenly becomes cheerful, according to the Center’s website.
In addition to the short course on suicide prevention, the Center also offers SAVE: TEEN, which stands for Suicide Awareness for Everyone, and is taught to middle and high school students. Another class called ASIST, for Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, is for anyone who wants to feel more comfortable, confident and competent in helping prevent the immediate risk of suicide.
To learn more about classes and other programs and work of the Center for Mental health, log onto www.centermh.org or call 252-3200.
Although the suicide rate here is high, all states along the Rockies have higher than average rates, said Janey Sorensen, the Center’s marketing director. Many studies are being conducted to see if there is a correlation between a location and high incidence of suicide, she said.
“What we’re concerned about this year is astounding numbers in such a short period of time,” she said. “We know we’re not finished yet, and we’re not sure of the reasons, but I think the economy is playing a role in the current statistics.”
While the current statistics include a wide range of ages, most of the suicides were by men and women in the 40-to-65 age range, Schmalz, and the majority have been by gunshot.
It’s the act of suicide itself that the Center hopes to prevent, Schmalz said, but everyone’s help is needed.
“The Center can’t do it as just one agency,” she said. “It takes all of us, a team effort to reach people really struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide.”
Although the economy may be a cause in some older adults’ suicides, young people sometimes take their lives because of bullying, which is a problem in our schools, Schmalz said.
“When you and I were kids we could get away from it when we got home, but now there’s Facebook,” she said.
Although she couldn’t comment on the causes leading up to their deaths, two teenagers died from suicide in the first quarter, one in Delta and one in Montrose.
“Bullying is a problem among young people and the state is working with the school safety office to address this problem,” she said.
The effort to address bullying in schools began late last year and included a symposium on youth violence and suicide prevention, she said, and the Montrose School District will expand its fledgling suicide prevention program this summer and fall.
“I think we will see more focus not just on suicide prevention but on bullying and self-injury,” Schmalz said. “I see it when I go into the classrooms. I ask if anyone has ever been bullied, and hands go up all over the place.”